On the habit of spatial shifts

Habit is something we are unable to live without. If the many menial tasks we complete each day were not a matter of habit, they would absorb all the attention we have for other more important things.

Habit allows us to add a couple of spoonfuls of sugar to our tea, without having to register the various tasks necessary to do so.  We can be mindless of the way our thumb is variously positioned on the stem of the spoon when it balances the spoon at one moment, tilts it the next, then applies enough pressure to dig into the sugar and secure enough to then tilt the sugar into our cup — all before we stir our tea, let alone sip it. If we were to think through each step as though never before performed, the tea would be cold before it reached our lips.

Habit has benefits.

At what point, though, does habit tip from helping us to achieve more in our day, to blinding us from seeing what, exactly, is in our day?

Habit frees attention by following a perceptual pattern that enables us to do an increasing number of things by blinding us to others. While this is intrinsic to a functioning daily life habit, nevertheless, turns art that activates a paradigm shift — art that invites us to see that which our patterned perceptions inhibit us to see — into art that remains unseen and unrecognised for years.

At this point it might seem odd to cite Minimal art as an example, given it has been around since the 1960s. Yet why is it that those who pour over its imagery in books out of respect for art history, remain blind to recognising for themselves Minimal art’s tenets when experienced in real life?

This would have to be a major mystery confined not only to contemporary art. If the mystery was a floor plan of an enclosed space that we see from above, because it is seen from above, we are able to make correlations between objects inside and outside the space. Our overview enables us to see, for instance, that a blue shape outside the space is the same blue inside the space.

At ground level, however, we are unable to make this correlation since we are without the perceptive power of an overlooking single view. We are either inside the enclosed space or outside — not both at the same time. To compare the two instances of blue, we would have to see the first, remember and compare it to the second: a comparison afflicted by memory’s distortions.

In other words, there is always a spatial shift between an overview of a subject (e.g. as knowledge gained through reading) and a grounded view’s actual experience of that subject.

In habit’s pattern: red and grey, we see a red and grey striped painting that is a ledge. A part of the pattern is missing. The missing part is found in the framed watercolour that rests on the ledge. When seen together, nothing of the pattern is missing, all the parts are accounted for — it is complete. Yet, within this completion, there is a spatial shift. A part of the red and grey striped pattern appears in one space, while the rest appears in another. The two spaces are, however, aligned — through the spatial shift. When we recognise this spatial shift, we forge a connection. Without recognition, the pattern remains disconnected, unrecognised, unseen.

This spatial shift is repeated by the red and grey stripes within the painting we are outside of, while the missing stripes are present in the room within which we stand, as red and grey rugs, when we imaginatively enter the watercolour floor plan. This spatial shift involves a shift in scale. Those locked within the watercolour scenario would fail to correlate the two instances for reasons that constitute the very experience of our everyday. The sculptuation places us, on the other hand, in a position to see.

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